It says something that the crash at 38th and Spruce at the end of September was almost expected. The accident marked the sixth incident this year at the notoriously crash-prone intersection.
That’s what happens when you only implement one of nine recommendations to make the street safer, and that should change. We think both the local government and Penn should take steps to ameliorate the issue.
While the city does have plans to install bumpouts at the intersection by the end of the year — which would address just the second of the nine recommendations — we’re not convinced this would have a substantial impact.
The issues that make the intersection dangerous would still remain. It would still have cars coming off the fast-moving I-76 freeway, which means many cars would still be speeding as they approach the intersection. There would still be two-way traffic both north-south and east-west (an anomaly for intersections adjacent to campus), which results in nearly 20,000 cars going through the intersection daily. Finally, poor visibility at sidewalk corners would continue to plague pedestrians.
Extending the hours during which Penn Police direct traffic at the intersection to include between 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. would help address all the concerns, especially the first two (currently, Penn Police are there from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m). Stationing a police officer there would slow down traffic and decrease confusion more consistently throughout the day. It would also lend another set of eyes to pedestrians crossing — an important aspect considering that students have been hit at the intersection this year.
This would not require a major shift in strategy. Not only does Penn Police already coordinate traffic at the intersection for 90 minutes throughout the day, it also directs traffic at 36th and Walnut frequently, even though Walnut is a one-way street and cars can’t approach the intersection from the south. Furthermore, on weekday mornings, a police officer is usually at the intersection just south of 38th and Spruce, which doesn’t face as many potential problems as the two-way intersection does. It’s not clear that a police officer is necessary at 36th and Walnut, but 38th and Spruce definitely could benefit from more order.
It would also be prudent for the city to do a couple of things. First, it should push food trucks, especially Bui’s and HubBub, a little further away from the corner.
Such a mandate would hardly hamper business for either of the food trucks — the same clientele would visit both trucks if they were moved between 40 to 100 feet closer toward Locust. However, the move would help increase visibility for pedestrians crossing from that corner — currently, many pedestrians face a bit of a blind spot caused by the food trucks being so close to the intersection. It would also give cars making a right turn onto Spruce from 38th more room to do so, as opposed to helping create a bit of a chokehold as they do now.
Second, the city should plant shrubs on the medians. Students especially tend to cross wherever is most convenient, but doing so near a hazardous intersection only exacerbates the problem. Putting shrubs in the medians might make the journey to Wawa 20 seconds longer, but it’s well worth it. It would force pedestrians to cross at crosswalks, curbing potential accidents.
All the recommendations above are cheap and relatively easy to implement. Hopefully by the end of the year, the University and Philadelphia will have done more than install bumpouts to make 38th and Spruce safer — though hopefully the city will not delay any safety measures it currently is planning.
Clearly, this problem won’t fix itself. Penn and Philadelphia have a simple decision: They can either take bold and effective action to mitigate the issue or expect future and recurring accidents. Given that safety is the first priority for both, it shouldn’t be a hard decision.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.